Espat family wants justice for the murder of Jerry Espat; Gabriel Villafranco Charged for Murder
Monday, October 4th, 2021
The Espat family is asking for justice after one of their own was gunned down while fishing out at sea on Saturday, October 2nd, at Cangrejo Caye, south of Ambergris Caye. 25-year-old Jerry Espat was shot to death while fishing for conch; his lifeless body was found a day later. His brothers, 27-year-old Luis Enrique Santoya, 23-year-old Ricardo Anthony Espat, and 26-year-old Kirian Espat, were also attacked by assailants aboard two boats but managed to escape with minor injuries. The beleaguered family is devastated and asks police to bring those responsible to justice as they are concerned about their safety.
On Monday, October 4th at 5:13pm, Police announced that Gabriel Villafranco, 34, had officially been charged for Murder, Attempted Murder, Use of Deadly Means of Harm, and Wounding.
The Espats are well-known on the island, and although some of them have had brushes with the law, Jerry and his brothers are not considered troublemakers. Their father, 46-year-old Anthony Espat, said that the only trouble they may have been in is perhaps illegal fishing, but nothing like murder or other violent crimes. He said that his sons are fishermen who sell their products to the different restaurants on the island, are family men, and do not look for trouble.
The family patriarch shared with The San Pedro Sun that their sons were ambushed and attacked while fishing for conch for no reason, and they suspect who the perpetrators are. According to Espat, they are criminals who should be in jail. “The system needs to change. You cannot have a killer out doing this crime once, twice, and again. How many times does he have to do this to give him life in prison?” Espat asked. He claims that the authorities know who is behind these types of crimes, and they only get locked up for a short time. “You will never stop the killing if you leave it this way. If someone goes in for killing, they should not have access to a lawyer after so many years,” he said. Espat believes that the country’s judiciary needs to change, and once someone is found guilty of murder, they should be sentenced to 20+ years in prison.
Shooters were recognized; the family can’t think of a motive
At the attack, Jerry and Kirian were in the water while Santoya and Ricardo were in their boat. According to Kirian, one minute they were fishing, and the other they saw a group of gunmen, four of them, aboard two boats, one green and one red. The men began shooting at his two brothers, Santoya and Ricardo. Afterward, they came to Jerry and shot him several times in the back. Kirian said he was next, and the assailants shot at him several times. Bullets grazed his stomach and right jaw. He looked for cover underneath the bow of the boat. Kirian said they came over again, and the gun jammed when they tried to shoot at him a second time. “They picked up a shovel and a long machete and tried to hit me. They managed to hit me on my head, but I did not give up. I hid underneath the bow, staying under the water for short periods,” said Kirian. All this while, the gunmen were trying to get a chance to shoot or chop him. In a desperate move, the assailants tried to run him over with the boat, but the engine propeller only cut his diving pants.
Kirian said he and his other brothers recognized their attackers. “I know them; I see them. I grew up with them,” said Kirian. He said that before one of them shot his brother Jerry, he asked why they were doing this to them. He reminded the gunman that they grew up and went to school together. Kirian, like the rest of the Espat family, is puzzled and does not understand why they were attacked. They cannot recall having any issues with the assailant; thus, the incident was shocking.
Gunmen attempted to kill all four brothers
After killing Jerry and believing they had gotten rid of Kirian, the gunmen set chase on Santoya and Ricardo, who left the area in their boat. They were reportedly pursued by the gunmen shooting after them until they reached the lagoon side of Ambergris Caye. Santoya was shot below his left knee, and a bullet grazed Ricardo. They looked for help and were treated at the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro Polyclinic II. Kirian reportedly started swimming towards Ambergris, some six miles away from Cangrejo Caye, while his dead brother floated in the sea. A kayaker assisted him. He was taken to the polyclinic, treated, and released. Santoya’s injury required further treatment, and he was airlifted to Belize City, where he continues to recover. A search party was assembled and went looking for Jerry but could not locate his body on Saturday. His lifeless body was not found until the following day floating near some mangroves by Cangrejo Caye.
The fact that the assailants had machetes, picks, and shovels in their boats, makes the Espat family believe that they wanted to kill the four brothers and perhaps bury them in shallow graves. Kirian said he is happy to be alive but traumatized by the thought of dying. He believes if they did not fight for their lives, the news at this moment would be about four fishermen missing at sea.
His family remembers Jerry as a hardworking man who loved to dress well and was a family guy. He leaves behind a common-law wife and a one-year-old daughter.
Jerry’s death is the first registered murder on the island for 2021.
Please help support Local Journalism in Belize
For the first time in the history of the island's community newspaper, The San Pedro Sun is appealing to their thousands of readers to help support the paper during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 1991 we have tirelessly provided vital local and national news. Now, more than ever, our community depends on us for trustworthy reporting, but our hard work comes with a cost. We need your support to keep delivering the news you rely on each and every day. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Please support us by making a contribution.Click to Donate